Teen Space

Why do we feel we’re not good enough?

Cartoon illustration of a girl burdened by negative thoughts

When you dip a sponge in muddy liquid it soaks in the water, as well as some fine mud. And gets dirty. Washing this sponge doesn’t always make it sparkling clean as before. If this was plain water, well, it might come back to original. Fresh and new, ready to soak in more. But the muddy sponge? Some day it will absorb no more, because the dirt won’t allow it. It will just become a mud-laden blob.

An absorbent brain

In a unique way, imagine our brain is like that sponge. An absorbent mass that soaks in all negative experiences of our life, retains them to memory, and brings up all our failures repeatedly and consistently when we try doing something new with it. What does that do to us? How do we think?

  • I won’t be able to manage this.
  • This is just not my cup of tea.
  • I always fumble when I speak.
  • Friends will think I’m dumb.
  • My classmates won’t like me.
  • I won’t be selected in the play.
  • I’ll fail that exam like before.
  • She’ll reject me like others do.

How we condition our brain

In our early years (particularly), as well as throughout life, we make associations and inferences about events around us. Our brain shows the most exponential growth in adolescence. Though this evolution continues as we age, the early years are formative. Unconsciously, at this time we construct cause-to-effect relationships between all our experiences. And we begin to predict the future based on previous failures and shortcomings.

  • I was told previously that I’m no good.
  • I tried the new language but I failed.
  • I wasn’t selected on the team then.
  • Friends in school used to mock me.
  • My previous teacher gave up on me.
  • I’ve been nervous in elocution before.
  • I got a poor rank in the last attempt.

Using the past to ruin the future

Notice how all failures have been in the past and the prediction of failures subsequently gets confirmed for the future? You and I, to a large extent, feel what we feel based on how we think about whatever has happened with us before. And it’s true that today we are not as good as it gets (how can we all be the best all the time after all?). But we have the open and free chance to be better any day, every day. The outcome of events are not in our hands, but the effort we put into each of our trials, is. All we need is the right direction to understand, appraise and make meaning of our past rightly — so that we have a clean sponge everyday to absorb fresher inputs and learning.

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Dr Shefali Batra is a Psychiatrist and Mindfulness Coach. Connect with her on Instagram @drshefalibatra and read more about her work at drshefalibatra.com.

Dr Shefali Batra

Dr Shefali Batra is a Psychiatrist and Mindfulness Coach. Connect with her on Instagram @drshefalibatra and read more about her work at drshefalibatra.com.